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Home » Music, Non-fiction, Reviews


Submitted by admin on December 21, 2009 – 6:10 pmNo Comment

by Dasha Afanasieva

Image by Leonora Saunders

Image by Leonora Saunders

Robin Norton-Hale’s production of Puccini’s La Bohème is not really opera as we know it. It’s cheap, it’s in a pub and it’s accompanied by a piano. The whole thing feels very much like an experiment but one that’s worth conducting. It’s fair to say that the singers didn’t hit every note and the pianist slipped up too but this production still gave you the laughs and the goosebumps in all the right places.

With the flu season in full swing, most of the singers had one or even two understudies. On the day, Anthony Flaum was a great Rodolfo with Rosalind Coad convincing as Mimi. However the chemistry between the two was slightly off key. In Act 2, in particular the two lovers reminded me of that couple at university who got together in Freshers’ week and spent the next three years annoying all their mutual friends with their pathetic little dramas, before finally breaking it off just before their finals. And that is not really the stuff that epic love stories are made of. Nevertheless, they had a few poignant moments which brought about the afore-mentioned goosebumps. Musetta, sung by Annabel Mountford had charisma in spades and was a pleasure to watch, especially alongside Michael Davis’ Marcello.

The translation is something Norton-Hale should be very proud of. Apart from the concept itself, the text is the best thing about this production. It is witty and relevant, referencing Kilburn, London life (and even the now defunct London Lite) without seeming too obvious or unnatural. It’s one of the things that makes the production so wonderfully accessible but in no way dumbed-down. In fact each line is sharp and original. Arguably if you’re not going to listen to the opera as it was originally written (in Italian), it makes sense to go all the way – to truly involve the audience.

The Cock Tavern Theatre must also be credited with enriching this original operatic offering – in the first Act I literally found myself sitting on the floor of Rodolfo and Marcello’s living room (a great set by the way) and without revealing too much, in Act 2 I felt even more part of the action. All in all, the pub-theatre venue is a brilliant idea for an opera – to hell with acoustics!

It was inspiring and refreshing to see such an original idea come to life. The excitement of the young cast was tangible – after all such brilliant parts are normally the reserve of older, more experienced singers. In fact everyone involved seemed to “get” how special and important such a departure from traditional opera was in reaching a non-traditional audience, even if only a few dozen listeners got to experience it each night.

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